Minimum wage: The super-sized straw man

Many left-wingers enjoy spreading the notion that there are many U.S. households in which the highest-income-earner scrounges by on the minimum wage. So when documentarian Morgan Spurlock ("Super size Me"; "Thirty Days") and his ilk go on and on about how a household cannot survive long-term on a mere minimum wage, they make a straw man argument, says Stuart K. Hayashi (Tech Central Station).

It's untrue that the majority of minimum-wage-earners go on making such low wages for years and years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics:

  • About 63 per cent of minimum wage workers receive raises within one year of employment.

  • Only 15 per cent still earn the minimum wage after three years.

    Moreover, minimum wage earners comprise only three per cent of all workers paid by the hour and only 1.8 per cent of American wage and salary earners. Large numbers of minimum wage earners are young people: 27.5 per cent are between 16 and 19 years old and those between the ages of 16 and 24 constitute 52.6 per cent.

    A 2004 study by Joseph Sabia and Richard Burkhauser examined the percentage of minimum wage earners that came from households falling under the poverty line:

  • Only 5.3 per cent came from homes that were below the official U.S. poverty line.

  • About 40 per cent live in households where the total yearly income is at least triple the maximum amount of income a household can receive and still be classified as being under the poverty line.

  • About 63 per cent of those who earn the minimum wage are not the highest income earner in their household.

  • Lastly, over 82 per cent of minimum wage earners are childless or are not the highest income earner of their household.

    Source: Stuart K. Hayashi, Super-Sized Strawman, Tech Central Station, June 29, 2005; based upon: William J. Carrington and Bruce C. Fallick, Do some workers have minimum wage careers? Monthly Labour Review Online, May 2001; and Joseph Sabia and Richard Burkhauser, Raising New York's Minimum Wage: A Poor Way to Help the Working Poor, Employment Policies Institute, July 2004.

    For text:

    For U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics study:

    For Sabia and Burkhauser study:

    For more on Minimum Wage:

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 19 July 2005
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